An ex-border patrol agent in Texas was convicted of killing four women in 2018 by a jury on Wednesday. Juan David Ortiz specifically targeted sex workers—identified as Melissa Ramirez, Claudine Anne Luera, Guiselda Alicia Cantu, and Janelle Ortiz—whom he admitted to soliciting and then killing.
Amid the trial, which began last week, jurors were shown a taped confession in which Ortiz told investigators that he’d sought out and paid for sex from the women he killed. He referred to the women as “trash” and claimed, “I wanted to clean up the streets. These people… are dirt, and I was going to get rid of them. Law enforcement doesn’t do anything about them? I will. I’m sick of them.”
Ortiz’s defense attorneys tried to dismiss the taped confession, claiming that it had been improperly obtained and that as a Navy veteran, Ortiz had been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, insomnia, nightmares, and headaches on the night he made the confession. Of course, as prosecutors have pointed out, Ortiz was an “educated” senior law enforcement official with a better understanding of his rights than most detained people.
The killings and Ortiz’s role in them only came to law enforcement’s attention one evening in September 2018, when a woman named Erika Pena escaped from Ortiz’s truck as he held a gun to her head. Pena testified that Ortiz told her he had been the “next to last person” to have sex with Ramirez, one of the women he’d killed, whose body had been found a week earlier. Pena had known Ramirez not only as a fellow sex worker, but as one of her friends, she said.
Pena claimed that as she fled from the vehicle, her blouse ripped, forcing her to run topless to a state trooper at a nearby gas station to report Ortiz, who then fled from the scene. He was found and arrested the next morning.
Federico Calderon of the Webb County Sheriff’s Department testified at the trial that while law enforcement was aware that Ramirez and Luera had been killed, they only learned Janelle Ortiz had been slain from Ortiz’s confession. Police discovered and identified Cantu’s body shortly after detaining Ortiz.
Ortiz has been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Prosecutors declined to seek the death penalty in his case.
Family members of Ortiz’s victims addressed him directly in victim impact statements at the trial. “She will always be the 6-year-old girl,” Joey Cantu, Cantu’s brother, said to Ortiz. “She was all that I had, bro. You took the last living member of my family, bro.”
“I hate you for what you did and I can never forgive you,” Ramirez’s sister-in-law told Ortiz. “I can never forgive you, nor do I think God will. You deserve to suffer in prison and go to hell. I still mourn for my sister-in-law. My heart is torn apart.”
Sex workers in particular are vulnerable to violence, especially from law enforcement, and often with impunity. According to the Urban Justice Center, 30% of interviewed sex workers said they had been threatened with violence by police officers, and 27% reported experiencing violence at the hands of police that included beatings and rape.
U.S. border patrol agents have a well-documented record of violence, including frequent killings targeting migrants, and internal investigations from Customs and Border Protection of their own agents that result in minimal consequences. Sexual abuse targeting detained migrant women and girls is also rampant in detention facilities.